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Monday, February 13, 2012

Finding a Job in France - Tips, Links, and Resources

Looking for a job is a little like dealing with a dysfunctional dating service.  Companies are looking for the perfect candidate (un mouton à cinq pattes) and you are looking for the perfect company with the job of your dreams.  Matchmaking is tough.  There are so many places to look and make contact even before you actually get together and start the interview dance.  Here are a few suggestions for how to go about it in France.  I work in IT but I'm sure some of what I have to say applies to other sectors.

First step is to get your CV and your lettre de motivation (cover letter) together.

Curriculum vitae:  You must have a CV in French and it must be in good French with no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. I saw a video recently done by a recruiter and she was very clear - basic mistakes will get that CV tossed in the bin faster then you can say "Camembert."  This site has some good tips and the basic format.  The good news is that putting your marital status, number of children and so on is going out of style.  All the CVs I've seen recently have dropped this information.  Photo is up to you but I wouldn't include one myself.  Having a CV in English or another language is useful too but remember that even if you are targeting French subsidiaries of foreign companies, the HR managers and staff are usually locals.  If you are coming from Germany they will probably not question the fact that you speak German but they will wonder what your level in French is.  I'd prepare the French one first and have it checked by a native speaker not only for errors but also for cultural appropriateness.  My sense is that formality and a certain modesty still prevail here.  An American CV that describes you as the hottest thing since the moon landing tends to strike an off-key note when read by a French HR person or manager. Once the French one is ready, then write up the English or other language one.

Cover letter:  The cover letter should also be formal and exquisitely polite.  Some examples here. Yes, they really do use formal endings like, "je vous prie d’agréer, Madame, Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués." which translates to something like "Please accept, Madame/Sir, the expression of my very highest regards." Remember that a "Madame" always goes before a "Monsieur" whether it is about who goes through the door first or who gets to be saluted first in a letter.  Chivalry is alive and well in the Hexagon.

Where to Look:  If you're applying from outside France, I'd start with two resources:  EURES, the EU Job Mobility Portal and the Pôle emploi international.  The latter is a branch of the French (un) employment office and the site is destined for French who want to work in other countries and for foreigners interested in jobs in France or the EU.  It's an excellent site with good links to other job sites for France and other EU states.  Once you've done that you can start looking at  resources in France.  Here are a few ideas if you work in IT:

  • Job boards:  Les Jeudis, Monster (France) and Indeed
  • Professional Networking sites:  If you are in IT I'm sure you're already on LinkedIn but you should definitely also register with the French one which is called Viadeo.  Some jobs appear on one but not the other. My experience is that French HR people often look at Viadeo before they search for your LinkedIn profile.  Start building your French contact list as soon as possible since you will need it later.
  • Recruitment companies:  Michael Page International (good folks), Progressive, Computer Futures.  Neumann International has a page with many IT recruitment companies here in France if you want a more extensive list.
  • Companies:  Almost all the big IT names (Dell, Microsoft, HP) have a presence in France and they all have an on-line service where you can register your CV.  To find out more about companies that might interest you, check out the AFCI (Chamber of Commerce and Industry) and Kompass.  Also think about the Mayor's offices - they often have a section of their websites devoted to helping local businesses find people.  

How to Get Noticed:  I think that it was K that pointed out that just emailing CVs and cover letters doesn't generally do the trick.  He's half right - in the past I have found work by doing just that and only that.  This time around, it's not enough - the job market is simply too tight right now.  So, once you have a presence and your CV is out there circulating, then you need to start doing the real work.  First of all get your pitch in French ready.  If you have a French friend, ask him/her to help you.  It needs to be good and it needs to be short and sweet.  Often you have just a few brief moments to make an impression and they won't have much patience for someone struggling to express him or herself.  Once you've done that here are some suggestions for the next steps:

  • Call recruitment companies:  Don't just send your CV.  Whenever possible, call first.  Yes, some of them will blow you off but some will reply favorably.  If you get a favorable answer and they invite you to send your CV, get a name so you have a real person to send it to and not just a generic mailbox.  After you have sent the CV and cover letter, wait a day and call again to be sure they got it and to initiate contact with a human.  
  • Follow-up:  With the job boards where all you have is a generic email, go ahead and send your CV, then wait a few days (I usually give it a week) and then either send a follow-up email or call them.  
  • Contacts:  Through Linkedin or Viadeo you should have established at least a few contacts in France.  Use them.  Get them to intercede on your behalf if you can or get them to find you someone who can help. 
  • Refresh your CV:  Don't just drop your CV on a site and then wait.  You need to go back every two to three weeks and reload your CV into the system.  That puts you at the top of the pile.  Do this consistently and you stand a much better chance of your CV being read and matched with current job offers.

Interviews:  I've never received a job offer without first going through the interview process.  French companies tend to be very careful who they hire since it is not easy to fire people here. In some cases I've gone through 6 interviews and a hiring process that took three to four months to conclude.  This is not such a big deal if you are already in France but what if you applying from outside France?  Accept that in most cases they will want to see you in the flesh eventually so budget for at least one or two plane or train tickets. The other solution is Skype.  Invest in a good camera and be proactive by suggesting to them that the first contact be via Skype.  Just as you would in your home country,  find out something about the company first and practice interviewing with a French friend or colleague.  Be prepared for the all too common generic interview question, "So, tell me about your parcours (work experience)..."

And finally a cultural tip:  French people like to talk.  A lot.  They love having a captive audience and they appreciate a good listener.   Prepare a few questions of your own and then let them take the lead.  You'd be amazed at the number of interviews I went through here in the very beginning where I just let them do the talking and I actually said very little.  Believe it or not,  I still got the jobs. :-)


Anonymous said...

Ah.. once again! Thanks for your detailed post. I shall start working with this as a beginning guideline - looks like I have to work hard...


Anonymous said...

Do you think its the right time to look for a job in France, given
1. the economy of the EU region
2. the possible policies w.r.t immigration arising out of the elections

I get conflicting answers from friends - some say for highly skilled labour its not a problem at all. Some feel that the job-market itself, irrespective of the skill-set, is down.

Your opinion/comments are welcome.


Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi K.

Your friends are right. There is still enormous demand for highly-skilled people. One of my friends here (French) had 10 job interviews last week. On the other hand I'm sensing reticence because people are still not sure how the crisis is going to play out. One person I talked to recently lost a job because the parent company in the U.S. froze hiring.

I'd say "go for it". It's not perfect but it's not that bad either.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this job searching tips, I need this because I found this Australian employment and I want to pass their interview so that I can now work on that country.

Victoria FERAUGE said...

Hi William, Good luck to you in Australia - a country I have always wanted to visit.